Richard Heath’s *Sigh* Of The Week

Richard shares his experience/exasperation of self service checkouts

VB reader and contributor, Richard Heath shares his views on supermarket self service checkouts. Ed

*Sigh* Of The WeekSo, as all things in common life, it started off with a trip to Tesco after work. All I had was four items of shopping, and after walking through the streams of queues (mainly consisting of families doing the weekly shop) I suddenly found myself at the end of the checkout lines.

What stood before me was a rather scary sight.

A zoo like pen, consisting of a huddle of shoppers, walking around with a sense of confusion, pressing buttons, frowning, furious barcode scanning, people waving for help, an assistant looking rather flustered, flashing lights, someone looking up and down a machine with their credit card pushing it in every slot they could see, I had found myself stood in-front of the self service checkouts.

It’s at this moment I turn back and walk back to the ‘normal’ checkouts, nearly reaching my goal I was suddenly stopped by a shop assistant who then re-directed me BACK towards the self service checkout. After taking a deep breath I join the one-person queue (consisting of a woman who looked just as apprehensive as me).

Stepping into the zoo pen
The inevitable moment happened, a checkout became available and it was my turn to step up to the mark. I entered the zoo pen (A part of me was expecting/wanting David Attenborough to start commentating over the public address system)

After progressing through the on-screen prompts I began to scan my items. Item number one – scanned, placed in carrier bag .. item number two – scanned, placed in carrier bag … item number three – scanned, placed in carrier bag … however, item number four decided (in its wisdom) that it was going to give me some aggravation. Setting off a red light above the checkout with a message on the screen that may as well translated as – ‘This guy doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing, please wait for assistance’.

What’s causing the problem?
It’s at this point I should add that ‘item number four’ was a well known brand of contraception.

A lady in uniform walked over (an employee, not the police) and after tapping a few buttons whilst profusely sighing, she told me to carry on with my scanning.

Item number four wasn’t content with letting me get away with it that easily though “¦ as I went to scan it again, the red light illuminated and the same message came on the screen.

Hot and awkward
It’s at this point that I begin to feel a bit hot with what I’m sure was accompanied by a few beads of sweat over my forehead. The assistant came storming over once more, and judging by the increased viscousness of button tapping, was getting rather tired of me.

“Carry on SIR!” .. and I did, as quickly as I could.

Item number four now successfully scanned through! Now for payment.

My first mistake was opting to pay by cash. It seems that machines aren’t as fond to taking money as humans are. I insert a £20 note, machine spits it back out. I turn over and flatten £20 note and the machine spits it back out. Repeated process another five times, before giving up and payed by debit card instead.

The process was complete and I hurried back to the car.

Where’s the upside?
Perhaps I just had a bad experience in the whole scheme of things, but to be honest, I do truly think that I should at least have some money deducted from my bill if I’m to do the work of a checkout employee. I should now be able to put on my résumé that I have experience with being a checkout operator.

It wasn’t any quicker and I was doing someone else’s work for free.

I’d rather go through a human operated checkout any day. A much more personal experience, even if it does mean having to stand through the odd awkward conversation.

On a lighter note, I’m glad on this occasion that I didn’t have to use a shopping trolley. Those things ALWAYS run out of control when being pushed by me.

Image: Trib under CC BY 2.0

Opinion Piece

Tuesday, 2nd November, 2010 5:53pm



Filed under: Isle of Wight Opinion Pieces

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24 Comments on "Richard Heath’s *Sigh* Of The Week"

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I love using the self service machines. I never have any problems using them, and because others dislike them there always seems to be one free wherever I am so 9/10 is faster than the manned tills.

sailor sam

I hate the damn things. They never work correctly for me and take more time than going through a normal till in my experience.


I love them too ,I have a great conversation with them and if they mess me about I swear at them ,sometimes they are a little inpatient but I always get there in the end,lol

Fay W
protip: never flatten notes, crumple them more: self-scanning checkouts HATE new money. The ones in Tesco are by far the easiest of them all to use. As a checkout-type person in a store that has these *wonderful* machines (hint: not a supermarket), they are infuriating as hell when people just don’t pay attention to the instructions being given (by the angry-sounding woman voice). It’s not hard to… Read more »

I absolutely hate them…the wife is constantly ‘amused’ at Petrol Stations where I always opt (or send her) to pay at the desk rather than ‘pay at pump’

A Non

At Tesco, the PAP never accepts my Clubcard for some reason, so I always end up having to take it to Customer Services to get me points on! Progress?


give the lens underneath a quick wipe/clean before scanning card I find that helps…………….

Mark Lansbury

Ah … so we also need to do routine cleaning of the shop’s till in addition to checking ourselves out?

My choice it to keep jobs by using manned tills – not using self-checkout. A shop with self-checkout only does not receive my money.


Love ’em or hate ’em but one things for sure, the council will be regular customers as plenty of them are well acquainted with self serving.

Mr Justice

How very modern of you No5, sending the wife.


fair division of Labour…I drive she does the paying :)


She does the eating, I do the drinking, sorted :)

Auntie P
I generally like them when I don’t have a lot of shopping but I also have conversations with them and tell them to ‘wait a minute’ or that I have already placed my item in the bag. I’ve never had any shirtiness from the overseeing member of staff – they’ve all been very understanding when I’ve managed to mess it up. But I don’t like the ones… Read more »
As with anything on the Island, it’s going to take an age for the OAP community to accept them and realise their not the devils tool. Seriously, most interfaces are made to be simple now. Just follow the instructions and use some common sense! They might be useful on the island but in/around the major cities i’d say their vital. And bad luck with the contraception –… Read more »
Steephill Jack
Maybe the machine wanted to know your age before you could buy the contraceptive ? But you seem to drive a car so you should be old enough. I have tried these auto-checks in a few places and I hate them too. Maybe they are designed for stupid people, but they never work for me. I have been told that I must use a plastic carrier bag… Read more »

My six year old grandchild is able to work them with ease. I can’t. Morrisons are by far the worst. Perhaps you should take her next time, mind you a six year old buying contraception might rise eyebrows.


“how much for your children – I want to by your children”

Wendy V

For more than a few items I find them a real pain. Instant flaw I found at Sainsbury’s was that if you take your own bags they come up as an “unrecognised” item, as they weigh more than a flimsy plastic carrier.
Daughter Alex researched an article for the Telegraph on how self-service checkouts haven’t cut queues:


Have I imagined it, or did I read a very similar report about self service on another website just recently.

Perhaps self service is flavour of the month in reporting circles.

Mark Lansbury

Self-serve checkouts take people’s jobs. Full stop.

Self-serve checkouts are not installed to benefit customers.

Self-serve checkouts increase corporate profits by eliminating employees. That is the bottom line.

Here, Here! – All the major supermarkets make the argument that reduced staff costs equal reduced product costs, but I can’t say I’ve noticed any considerable savings… and besides, the wages that go in the pocket of checkout staff go back into the local economy, unlike corporate profits which are sucked up and used elsewhere… I HATE self-service checkouts. The Government should ban the bloody things, thereby… Read more »
James P
I think s/s checkouts are the worst of all possible worlds. They have certainly given me new respect for the usual operators, whose jobs are threatened by these idiot machines. “Unexpected item in the bagging area” has become the new comedy catchphrase, and with good reason. As Mark says, they are installed for the supermarket’s benefit, not the customer’s. I prefer to deal with a flesh and… Read more »
Fan of machines
I Love Them!! So much more efficient than waiting in the queue and then the customer in front has a problem, the till operator turns her red light on to call for assistance, the “Assistance” is busy on another till sorting out someone elses error… eventually the assistant arrives to assist the person with the problem… (I, all this time have 5 items which are the ingredients… Read more »
Mark Lansbury

Rather sounds like a self-serve till … red lights flashing. One employee split between all the tills with problems …